Even through the severe ups and downs of the travel industry, it seems that flying internationally is still affordable if you find the right deals. But to determine the true cost of economy saver fares, you have to add up all the things the airline will nickel and dime you for later. It’s no longer a safe bet to book the cheapest thing that comes up on Kayak or Google Flights. You may just be delaying payment for the rest of a regular fare when you account for anything above the bare minimum. Here is why.
What are economy saver fares?
Economy saver fares were designed to mimic the growing trend of low-cost airlines that will fly you with no baggage, no food, and no frills for a shockingly low price compared to competing airlines. After the ongoing success of airlines like Ryanair, Wizz and Norwegian, traditional airlines got into the business of offering a sub-economy class that allows greater access to travel at all price points. But does it really?
When economy saver is worth it
This model works for carriers like Ryanair, which mostly provide short-haul routes to and from various European cities. Like the equivalent Spirit in the US, this works for people who are taking weekend trips to the UK from Germany. If you’re only flying for an hour and a half for $50, you will probably tolerate any inconvenience or discomfort. But as used by traditional carriers like American Airlines and Lufthansa when flying intercontinentally, the low cost of economy saver becomes costly in other ways.
The weight of your bag is more like likely to cost you than the size
Most airlines that offer the economy saver fare allow you to carry on one bag, typically according to the standard sizing requirements. While it’s pretty simple to buy standard-sized checked bag that will always fit in the sizer, the problem is filling it to a weight of less than 8 kg (around 17 lbs). For reference, consider that a carry on rollerboard could weigh as much as 3 kg. You can imagine how easy it would be to surpass the remaining 5 kg with just a few items of clothing and one pair of shoes. Unless your reason for flying is to hijack the plane and fly it into a skyscraper, you’re going to need more clothes than that for any international flight.
If you haven’t flown lately, that means paying exorbitant fees for excess baggage. Long gone are the days when a bag too big or too heavy was an extra $30 at the airport. Now airlines regularly charge upwards of $70-150 per bag. In some cases, that’s per leg, not for the whole trip. If you didn’t think ahead and they “catch” you at the airport with an overweight bag, the cost may be punitively higher.
Other travel “perks” that aren’t standard on economy saver
In addition to baggage, other things you may take for granted may incur an extra fee, like the ability to choose a free seat when you check in. Again, perhaps that’s not a huge issue when you’re flying 45 minutes, but when you’re traveling for 16 hours, you may want to choose your favorite aisle or window seat or have the option to sit next to your travel partner at no additional cost. Even complimentary food may get axed unless you pre-buy a meal. The alternative is often buying something terrible at the airport at a premium. (Have you ever transited through Switzerland? Enjoy your $10 bag of chips.)
With all the existing restrictions on travel, having to worry about being charged an unexpected $130 for what is a standard amount of stuff to travel with is perhaps not worth the savings. It may not be a savings at all when you consider what you would have paid for a basic economy fare with all the trimmings.
A better way to save is to compare flights according to the add-ons you know you need for your trip instead of just booking the first cheap fare you see and getting an unpleasant surprise later. If you’re a nervous flyer and you know you need a seat by the window, research how much the trip will cost when seat selection is included. Cheap fares may allow you to travel more, but the bait and switch economy saver fares are often more expensive than they initially seem.